While his Bearcats have yet to really hit their mark this season, the ‘Cats rolled off their second consecutive non-conference victory to start the season.
Coach Kennedy, who had no head coaching experience prior to his chaotic announcement as head coach of the Bearcats, managed to escape with another victory, despite the lack of aesthetic pleasure many of those in attendance garnered from watching it. Lacking an real dramatics or high-wire acts, the underwhelming number of the Bearcat faithful in the stands were treated to average shooting, average rebounding and pretty good defense against a team that lost by 45 points to crosstown rival Xavier last Saturday night.
With that being said, there were some definite positives for this ever-evolving UC roster.
Leading the way for the Bearcats was explosive freshman dynamo Devan Downey, who sliced through the opposing defense all night in route to a 21 point performance. Coming off a less than stellar showing against Murray State, where fellow freshman point guard Dominic Tilford won the hearts of the UC faithful with several clutch shots down the stretch in their come-from-behind victory, Downey burst on to the collegiate season knocking down 7-of-12 from the floor (2-of-three from behind the arc), while initiate offense with three assists and four steals in his 29 minutes of work.
The metaphoric arrival of the 5-8 guard from South Carolina was a much needed perk for the Bearcats, who saw little production from the majority of their back-court corp. With backup lead guard Chadd Moore already out of the picture, UC saw fiery Jihad Muhammad and Murray State standout Tilford struggle against the Redbirds.
Muhammad, who is known for his in-your-face, emotional play, possibly saw it get the better of him on this night. The 5-11 guard played a relatively unproductive 18 minutes, scoring zero points on his four shot attempts (0-for-2 from behind the arc), while dishing out three turnovers to go along with his three assists. The frustration felt by many of the fans seemed to be felt in Muhammad as well, as you could visibly seem him react emotionally on several occasions.
Tilford, who played sparingly against Murray State as well, saw his minute total jump to 11, but he could not match the timely magic he found against Murray State, recording four points during his time on the floor, while also being limited by three fouls.
The game also saw the unexpectedly poor play of Armein Kirkland continue. After he and James White, who played well on the night with 18 points (6-of-10 from the floor; 3-of-6 on threes) and six rebounds, were chastised by coach Kennedy for their poor shooting, Kirkland responded with a timid 10 point showing (3-of-8). Though he did contribute mightily in the defensive statistical categories with two blocks and three steals, the 6-8 wing-man did have five turnovers, and still lacks any true "presence" on the court.
When one speaks of "presence on the court" UC's resident beast in the middle Eric Hicks is usually the first name that will come to a Bearcat fan's mind. However, on this night Hicks was not much of a presence, at least on the offensive end. While pulling down 11 rebounds, his second consecutive double-digit effort on the glass, Hicks misfired on all but four of his 12 shot attempts, scoring just eight points for the game. Perhaps the most surprising stat on the night was of the 26 free-throw attempts the Bearcats took, only one belonged to Hicks.
Perhaps most surprisingly on the night was the production of Ronald Allen. Though only playing seven minutes, Allen hit three big bombs from behind the arc. Taking the role for Tilford on the night, Allen's first-half effort helped keep UC in a position to stay ahead all night long. The 6-10 transfer from St. Xavier (LA) who came to UC because of the events of Hurricane Katrina, will be a much needed asset to a Bearcat club that is plagued with an overabundance of small forwards and point guards.
The inconsistent play of Cedric McGowan and Allen, who will team with Hicks for the majority of minutes in the low box, has hurt the Bearcats in the rebounding department all season long. Including the preseason, the Bearcats have been continuously burned on the defensive glass by smaller, less athletic teams. Giving up 11 offensive rebounds to ISU, the Bearcats tendency to over-commit to blocking shots has left them vulnerable to weak-side rebounding by their opponent. Also, the small forward mentality of players like Kirkland, White and DeAndre Coleman (one point in 10 minutes) often leads them to leak to the fast break instead of crashing the boards, leaving the ‘Cats susceptible to a team with a crash-the-boards attitude.
The Bearcats will look to continue their march towards perfection (during the game and in the win-loss column) on Friday night, when a tough Holy Cross squad come to Cincinnati.